Quit skinning the ‘Skins. This was the right move.

Why the Washington Football Team's temporary rename is the right move

In response to cultural and political pressures, the team formerly known as the Washington Redskins, decided to finally change their name. And the people cheered. Then a few weeks later, they announced a temporary name for 2020-21 season – drumroll – the new name for Washington’s football team is “The Washington Football Team.” Cue the sad trombone.

The minute this was announced, the designer-ati took up arms and charged the comments section of their battlefield of choice. They chided and castigated the decision and the team’s leadership for their seemingly unimaginative, blasé approach. After all, how could they possibly not develop a cool name and identity in 4-6 weeks? With so many creatives readily available with such brilliant ideas, how could this team not create and launch a fantastic, remarkable brand? And so continued/continues the idiocy. One can almost smell the hubris and self-righteousness from the design community emanating from the digital universe.

A football team is more than a coach, gm, owner, and players. They are organizations comprised of 30-50 staff and 53 players at any given time, with a long trail of alumni. They represent the people of entire cities, states, or regions amassing large fan-bases that span the nation. Suffice to say, football teams have a gigantic suite of stakeholders–each with a varying degree of passion for the brand and the unique meaning brought to their lives.

Washington’s football team was founded in 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts. At its founding, the team was named the Boston Braves. In 1933, the team changed its name to the Redskins, and in 1937 relocated to Washington, DC. That is nearly a century of fan-building and alum building.

I mention all of this to pose this question: With a stakeholder group so large, how can anyone possibly think it’s smart and proper to rush into a name and logo in 6 weeks?

To think this, and to push this thinking into the world, devalues the process of developing a brand, not to mention a brand the size of Washington’s football team. Developing a brand is so much more than graphic design. One only need visit the website of a fledgling design studio to be reminded of this fact. And yet, they roll their eyes as they forcefully cross their t’s while writing scathing criticisms for Washington’s decision.

Let’s make this super clear. The decision to immediately drop the offensive team name, and set a basic holding name in its place is 100% correct path forward for this organization.

By taking immediate action, the team quickly made good on its promise. By establishing a temporary solution, albeit not ideal, the organization creates a longer runway to approach the challenge with the weight and importance it so very much deserves. They bought themselves the time to do right by the fans, the city/region, the current staff and players, and their alum. Washington can now be surgical and precise with their next steps. And that’s good for the industry of branding, naming and design.

Too often we are put behind the eightball when it comes to expectations of time. We are asked and expected to develop brand strategies, names, and identities at lightning speed for many reasons. It may be the leadership slacked and are now faced with having to make up for time, or they simply are rushing to market. No matter what the impetus may be, time is rarely on our side when it comes to developing a brand the right way.

So when the Washington Football Team’s leadership decided to make the time to do this right, my hat goes off to them. Dear angry designers, please kindly shut up and recognize this move for what it is, a tough, correct call that also benefits the perceptions of our industry and our work. Quit skinning the team because you think you could design a cool logo.

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